When we heard about easyJet’s Inspiration Initiative, and found that it coincidentally fell around our blog’s anniversary, we almost felt obliged to write our own Inspiration Initiative post! We hope that our stories of travel and the reasons why we do it help inspire others to head out there and see the world.
Every March Break, my parents drove us down to Florida for a week to go swimming, visit Disney World or one of the other theme parks, maybe catch a Shuttle launch, and get some much-needed sun (we’re Canadian – winter is long and awful). We’d play car games like ‘I Spy’ and ‘Alphabet’ to pass the time, and me and my brother were usually so excited to be on our way we managed not to fight. Much. Sometimes we’d travel around for two weeks, sometimes we’d stay in a city like Cocoa Beach for a full week – either way, we were lucky to have parents willing and able to save all year round towards a family vacation. I think those times together have given both of us a love of travel that have sent us to separate ends of the world over the years – by ourselves, as a family, or with our own families.
My dad’s mother – who I called my mummo (Finnish for grandmother) – had a collection of knick knacks I was always fascinated by. There were some she’d let me play with and some she’d let me look at, but my favourite were a pair of Japanese dolls in Shinto wedding costume. When she worked on Spadina Avenue, in the days that the buildings were full of seamstresses, she knew women from all around the world, and one of her Japanese friends had given her them. I think those dolls are the reason I eventually became interested in Japan, studying Japan, and eventually going there. The dolls represented somewhere completely different to me, and that’s what has always appealed to me about travel – being out of my element.
When I was thirteen, my mummo took me to Finland with her for my cousin’s wedding. I didn’t speak much Finnish, though after a month’s time, I was starting to understand it. We stayed with family who hadn’t seen my dad since he was a little boy, and hadn’t even met my mother and brother – some of them never did. They treated me like they’d known me all my life and took me around to different parts of the country. I remember going to a theme park in downtown Helsinki with my nineteen year old South African cousin and friends, and feeling terribly awkward and hating my casual Ontario accent next to her more-formal-sounding Johannesburg tones. But who doesn’t feel awkward at thirteen?
We went to visit family in a few different cities in Sweden and took the train to Copenhagen one day, passing Elsinore along the way. The Danish city was the first place I saw rollerblades, people zipping over the cobblestones like they were smoothed pavement. My grandmother even agreed to take me on a tour to the still-Soviet Leningrad, in an act of bravery I wasn’t really completely aware of at the time. Though I knew she and my great-grandmother had escaped Russia into Finland with only baskets and the clothes on their back before the war, I figured it was a long time ago; that it wouldn’t bother her by then. But when I talked about how poor the people seemed, she told me not to talk about it, in case the hotel room was bugged. At the time, I thought it was kind of ridiculous. I only recently found that the purges my grandmother lived through have been considered a Finnish genocide in recent years. Maybe she felt she had to face whatever would happen when we drove through those familiar woods, went to what is now St. Peterburg again. I know she loved me a lot, to take that trip at all.
When we were there, I could tell that something was ending, even as a bratty teenager. The border guards seemed only a few years older than me, some of them were sleeping in the guard towers. Leningrad was worn, and people were selling Hard Rock Café knockoffs on the street. Capitalism had already made its way in, it was only a matter of time. Travel not only is about a place, but the moment – places aren’t static, history affects them as much as it affects us.
In Nikko, Japan, there are several temples and shrines grouped together – two Shinto and one Buddhist – that were founded in the late 700s AD. When I visited with my friend Chris, we came up to Tokugawa Iemitsu’s shrine (the third Tokugawa shogun), there were Shinto rites in progress in the oratory; we had that kind of fortunate timing the whole trip. We slipped our shoes off and slid onto the tatami mats as unobtrusively as possible to kneel and listen. There, I felt thankful for having the means to be in Japan, in that shrine, experiencing the things that I’d only read about. I was never so profoundly grateful to be any place in my life.
Interestingly it was my in-laws and a trip to Mexico back in the early 2000’s that really rekindled my interest in travel. Having spent my formative years in whatever country happened to have family housing while my father was being stationed somewhere, there was a long time where I thought I didn’t actually like traveling. After we got to Canada we rarely traveled, and if so, never much further than Ottawa – though there was one class trip to Washington but that was pretty much the only time I set foot outside of the province much alone the country. My in-laws’ gift of a family trip down to the Yucatecan let me connect years of historical education with the physical reality of a place that was once only imagined or seen in pictures.
There’s something about walking in the places that have borne witness to hundreds – if not thousands – of years of our collective history. Getting the opportunity to visit Chichen Itza only spurred my taste on for more. Here for example you had the great ruins of the notorious Mayans, more notably known for their practice of human sacrifice . Luckily still being able to climb at the time, we were able to go up to the top of the Castillo, which is good, as it’s the only vantage that really allows you to appreciate the magnitude of their work. Every time I travel to one of these places, I can’t help but be impressed at how ingenious mankind can be. Since then I’ve managed to visit a score of UNESCO Heritage Sites, and revel in my History Nerd-ness. All the while visiting a good dozen or so countries over the last five years and meeting some very nice people along the way.
Not to mention some good eats!
So now that we’ve shared our reasons for traveling, we get to nominate five bloggers to follow suit and share their stories of travel inspiration. In no particular order, here’s a great group of ladies:
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…What’s your travel inspiration?